Audibles at the Line: Week 12
compiled by Andrew Potter
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Lions fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
Tennessee Titans 45 at Indianapolis Colts 26
Bryan Knowles: In the matchup two weeks ago, Derrick Henry only got 19 carries as Indianapolis led for most of the day. This isn't a "run to win" thing, but the Titans do like getting ahead and pounding Henry into defenses over and over again -- getting down early throws a kink into those plans. At least they'll start this game in the lead, as they take the ball and march straight down the field for the opening touchdown. Henry had five carries and the eventual touchdown; Ryan Tannehill was a perfect 4-for-4 on nothing but short passes, and the Colts were just on skates the entire drive. This game isn't quite all she wrote in the AFC South regardless of what happens; the Titans are close enough that they could recover to pass the Colts even if they lose the tiebreaker. Still, for maximum drama in the division, Tennessee needs the win today.
Bryan Knowles: What do we think of Jacoby Brissett, fourth-down quarterback? The Colts brought him again for a big fourth-and-1 from midfield, and Brissett rolled out and picked it up. Personally, I kind of like it -- Brissett isn't a great quarterback or anything, but he's a competent player and at least a justifiable threat to throw the ball. He hasn't done it yet, mind you, but it's got to be there in the back of defensive minds. It's not like the 3-million-year-old Philip Rivers is going to roll out and pick up the first down, right? And there's a clear plan of only bringing him in on fourth downs and goal-line situations, rather than doing it willy-nilly because they've got a new package they want to use. I'm on board.
The fourth-down pickup extends the drive, Rivers hits Jordan Wilkins on the next play for 20 yards to get the ball inside the 30, and they keep on marching until Trey Burton finds the end zone. All tied at seven as we approach the end of the first quarter.
Aaron Schatz: I'm a big fan of the idea of a short-yardage quarterback specialist. You need to be converting those plays, so whatever gives you the best chance to do so is a good idea. You just need to make sure you throw the ball occasionally to keep the defense on its heels.
Bryan Knowles: The Titans' first drive was methodical and effective. Their second drive not quite so much -- last year's YAC+ leader, A.J. Brown, takes a short little slant route and turns on the jets, untouched for 69 yards and a touchdown to give the Titans a 14-7 lead.
Anyone want to play defense in this one? If not, that's OK -- I can get behind a shootout today.
Scott Spratt: I like the third-down quarterback specialist in the scenarios we've seen it so far in the NFL -- specifically with Brissett and Taysom Hill substituting for Rivers and Drew Brees. But I wouldn't like it if teams did it for their younger quarterbacks because those are developmental downs, and having success on them isn't the only goal.
It's like when baseball teams make young, left-handed hitters into platoon-only players facing right-handed pitchers. You can't get better against left-handed pitchers if you never face them.
Vince Verhei: I agree with Aaron and Scott -- a short-yardage specialist QB makes sense for a team like the Colts, whose starter is plainly past his physical peak. I also agree with anyone who says that A.J. Brown is awesome. Just his weekly example of catching a single and turning it into a home run.
Oh my god, AJ Brown does it every week.pic.twitter.com/ExDrFs0qcd
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) November 29, 2020
Tom Gower: Rivers' total lack of movement ability, even for rollouts, and no QB sneaks, takes so much away from the offense on short yardage that subbing in Brissett, an actual quarterback, is one thing. There are other scenarios that feel much more gimmicky.
Defense won hardly anything in the first 30 minutes of the first Titans-Colts game, so it's not a surprise that it's 14-7 after three possessions in this game, and the Colts are in field goal range after three plays in the fourth possession.
Bryan Knowles: The Titans defense failing to stop the Colts' offense makes sense; they're really quite bad. The Colts defense struggling the other way is the odd result; they're in the top five in DVOA, and in the top 10 against both the run and the pass.
And it's the Jacoby Brissett day -- a pass interference brings the ball down to the 1-yard line, so in comes Brissett, who runs and apparently scores a touchdown. I'm a bit dubious he got over the line, but it was confirmed, and we're tied at 14. I don't want to dismiss what Philip Rivers is doing; he has got a lot sharper since the season began and he hit Trey Burton and Nyheim Hines for some big plays on this drive, so it's not like the Colts are just pulling a trick out to replace an ineffective quarterback or things. I really like how Frank Reich is designing and calling this offense.
Dave Bernreuther: It feels like mere days ago that these two teams just played. In that game, Tannehill, Henry, and the Titans came out on fire, slicing through the Colts defense, and only an A.J. Brown drop kept them from what could have been a 17-3 lead. The Colts settled in, of course, and played like a dominant team the rest of the way. This time around, with DeForest Buckner, Denico Autry, and Bobby Okereke gone, domination is quite a bit less likely, but the offense is keeping pace with the Titans', which this time featured Brown hanging on to one and then romping for a 69-yard score. As if to answer the ongoing conversation about the Brissett package, Jacoby takes the field again in a goal-to-go situation and makes his case by earning a hard-fought touchdown.
It looks like the Titans' second score has been changed from a pass to Henry to a lateral, which surprises me, since that isn't something I noticed in real time. On their third drive, Darius Leonard gets a hand on a third-down pass attempt and we will see the game's first punt. Perhaps domination remains in the cards! (Knocks wood.)
Getting back to the Brissett conversation, it makes a ton of sense to me too, and that's coming from someone that thought that paying both him and Rivers was a huge waste of money. Rivers is notoriously averse to the sneak, which is an important short-yardage tool, and as Vince says, he's also past his physical peak. Heck, the last few years have made a very strong case that it's probably smart to keep him on a pitch count. For an offense that goes four-downs so often, to have a player like Brissett that can make the opponent defend sneaks (and outside runs, like the one that easily converted fourth down earlier) as well as the occasional deep throw -- and I wouldn't be even remotely surprised to see a play-action shot play out of that package in this or a future game -- is a huge advantage.
Bryan Knowles: Oh, backbreaker for Indy there. With these defenses, er, not at their sharpest, the Colts got a rare red zone stop. Holding your opponent to a field goal might be a win, the way this first quarter and a half has been going. But a late flag came in, and the Colts were flagged for illegal hands to the face, giving the Titans a new set of downs and a touchdown on the next play for the 21-14 Titans lead.
The non-Derrick Henry rushing leader against the Colts this season was Kareem Hunt, who had 72 yards back in October. Henry had 103 yards on those 19 carries last time around, and he's already up to 81 today. Henry is just a different beast out there.
Dave Bernreuther: I'm not sure I saw enough from the sideline angle to have thrown that flag on Rock Ya-Sin, but man, what a buzzkill after the third-down play, where they not only stopped them, but swarmed Tannehill for a sack that ensured a field goal attempt. That's a horrible four-point swing for the shorthanded defense, and it serves me right for thinking I could use that "D" word above and get away with it.
Derrick Henry just took off for 31, going over 100 for the half and 5,000 for his career. Different beast, indeed.
Vince Verhei: Worth noting that the Colts are down two starting defensive linemen (DeForest Buckner and Denico Autry) and a linebacker (Bobby Okereke). Henry, of course, is a different beast, but the Colts are trying to stop him without several key zookeepers. Or something.
Aaron Schatz: Out of curiosity, I went to check out the Derrick Henry halftime splits. It looks like being better in the second half is really a thing, at least in three of the last four years. Regular-season numbers only:
- 2017 rushing DVOA: -13.6% before halftime, 7.9% after halftime
- 2018 rushing DVOA: 25.6% before halftime, 20.8% after halftime
- 2019 rushing DVOA: -13.5% before halftime, 21.5% after halftime
- 2020 rushing DVOA before today: -2.7% before halftime, 31.8% after halftime
Dave Bernreuther: The Colts are probably wishing they had some tranquilizer darts, Vince...
An 11-yard touchdown run for Henry gives him three on the day and more rushing yards than Tannehill has pass yards. And Tannehill is playing well!
Bryan Knowles: Granted, Vince, but then, we could point out the Titans are missing Taylor Lewan, as well.
And Henry's up to 140 yards now, averaging over 8 yards per carry. He has three first-half touchdowns. The single-game rushing leader this season has to worry, as that's, uh ... Derrick Henry, at 212 yards against the Texans back in October.
Dave Bernreuther: And this is all just in the *first* half!
Scott Spratt: Last season, the Colts had the No. 18 DVOA run defense. This year, they have the No. 5 DVOA run defense. Should DeForest Buckner be a DPOY candidate?
Bryan Knowles: Mike Vrabel goes for the kill. With Henry getting a break for a series, the Titans have fourth-and-4 from the Colts' 38 with 31 seconds left. Kick the field goal, enjoy your 31-14 lead, right? No -- Tannehill bombs a shot to Corey Davis for 37 yards, and then Tannehill fakes the handoff to Henry and walks untouched into the end zone.
35-14 Titans at the half. It is not a shocker that Tennessee is winning. It's a shocker that it has been so one-sided. The Colts haven't allowed 400 yards to anyone yet this season; the Titans are up to 346 in the first half. Buckner isn't THAT important, is he?
Dave Bernreuther: Well he's really good. And Autry is too. So Henry going off is no big surprise; he was solid last time, and today is just the third 100-yard rusher the Colts have allowed in the last three years ... and all three are Henry. But they're not getting ANY pressure, save for the one play that got erased by the Ya-Sin penalty, not up the middle (understandable) or from the edges. And the Titans are playing a third-string tackle and two injured guys on the line too. I guess it's a trickle effect from the attention Buckner would get, but none of the other starters are winning one-on-ones along the line at all.
I'm a pessimistic fan and thus was on record earlier this year as doubting this defense ... but this is one of those games where I wish that we had more of an injury adjustment or way to asterisk it, because if this keeps up, it's going to be really unfair to their defensive DVOA and probably not very predictive at all. (Although as things stand right now, these teams are 4-5 in the conference, and their first-round game would be a rubber match...) This outcome doesn't exactly surprise me today -- and in fact I bet on it -- but I do still think we can mostly point to the starter they're missing. There's a reason they gave up a premium pick and $80 million for Buckner, and he has absolutely lived up to it through 10 games.
Tom Gower: 35-14 at the half, and the Colts defense has looked about as competitive as five touchdowns in six possessions suggests. With Buckner out, they moved Grover Stewart to Buckner's position and put their replacement in as the 1-tech. That doesn't seem to have worked, with Stewart not nearly the same factor he was in the first matchup. The issue for the Colts is that neither Stewart nor literally anybody else on their defense is winning any sort of one-on-one matchup on any play. It's like watching the 2006 Jaguars-Colts game where Jacksonville ran for a million yards.
The big change is not that the Titans kept scoring, but that the Colts did not. If I wanted to potentially overread into that, I'd say it's a factor of a Colts offense that isn't particularly explosive so they need to execute with consistency. They (well, Kevin Byard) actually tackled Nyheim Hines one-on-one in space to get the first third-down stop, the second one they actually targeted Michael Pittman (wide receivers haven't been much of a factor for the Colts so far) but couldn't connect, and the third one was set back by a holding penalty, and this offense isn't converting third-and-really long. Also, left tackle Anthony Castonzo left the game after the second possession. I haven't noticed a further update on his condition (questionable), but the downgrade to Le'Raven Clark has been noticeable.
Vince Verhei: The Titans scored more points in the first half than the Colts had given up in an entire game this year.
Tom Gower: Did I not write a second-half recap to sum up this game? I guess I did not, so time to rectify that.
In hindsight, the difference in this game was Anthony Castonzo's injury. When he left the game, the Colts had scored two touchdowns on as many possessions and had moved the ball with roughly as much success as they'd had in the first matchup between the two teams. After he was replaced by Clark, the offense cratered. I'll see if I can run the DVOA splits afterward, but I'd imagine the difference is going to be pretty stark, with a success rate difference in the neighborhood of 25%. Yes, really. It just stresses for me the fragile nature of the Indianapolis offense. Nyheim Hines was the key in the first game and he had some plays this game, and T.Y. Hilton is still fast, but Rivers can't take advantage of that speed and with Castonzo out and Ryan Kelly missing the game with a neck injury, the perfect pocket he needs to make quality throws just wasn't there. I did the Colts chapter when Frank Reich was hired and noted the Colts didn't have the sort of short-yardage playmakers to make that kind of shorter offense work to its highest potential. Guys like Hines and Mo Alie-Cox seem to fit, but the overall personnel does not that much. Throws like Zach Pascal running a post-corner route, just no, and Breon Borders had an easy interception when that happened. Another thing that stands out is Rivers' unwillingness to attempt to fit tight-window throws. This is probably a good idea given he can't drive the ball, but it does highlight some of the overall issues with the offense and why the Colts seem like such a limited team.
Tennessee's offense in the second half didn't find the same running room. I'm not sure if the Colts did anything too different, or if they just played better. Kind of funny that the Titans in both games played well on offense in the first half, were blah the first two drives of the second half, and then recovered reasonably, if not quite to the same level as before. Thanks to the first-half lead and the lack of special teams disasters, it didn't matter today like it did a couple weeks ago. The offense only had the one field goal, but with the Colts' lack of success on offense, the field goal on fourth-and-1 from the 26 and punt on fourth-and-2 from the Colts 39 don't bother me the way they would in other circumstances and just weren't that big a deal.
Overall, Mike Tanier wrote in Walkthrough before the first game that the Colts and Titans would both probably finish 1-2 in the key three-game stretch. Both teams actually recovered from double-digit deficits to win their tough game in the middle, but the split of their head-to-head games was an accurate call. The win today is key for the Titans, preventing the head-to-head sweep and leading the division with the Colts' season-opening loss to Jacksonville. I'm not sure how much we really learned today. If Indianapolis recovers well once they get Buckner, Autry, and Okereke back, it can mostly be written off, and the offense's limitations aren't really news. But this was a game Tennessee pretty much needed to have to avoid giving the Colts effectively a two-game lead in the division, and they got it.
Los Angeles Chargers 17 at Buffalo Bills 27
Scott Spratt: I wouldn't have thought it entering the season, but this game is a matchup between the No. 5 and No. 7 DVOA passing offenses. And passing motivated the Bills' opening-drive touchdown, even if it won't show up in the box score (sorry DeAndre Hopkins!). Stefon Diggs drew a 47-yard defensive pass interference penalty that set the Bills up with a first-and-goal from the 5-yard line, which Josh Allen converted on a pass to tight end Dawson Knox.
It's Diggs' 27th birthday, and that's a good way to celebrate.
Scott Spratt: Maybe one of the other Audible-ers can check me on this, but in my database of Sportradar data, I'm seeing that, of the 232 pass attempts of 40 or more air yards this season, 79 have been completed, 12 have drawn accepted defensive pass interference penalties, and just 16 have been intercepted. That's a 39% chance something really good happens and only a 7% chance something really bad happens. I like those odds!
With Sam Darnold back healthy for the Jets, Joe Flacco may have made his last career start. But his legacy lives on.
Dave Bernreuther: Odd statline in the early going in this one: Justin Herbert is completing only half of his passes, but he has thrown a ton of them, giving him a bunch of yards and a touchdown to Keenan Allen in traffic. Josh Allen, meanwhile, hit on 100% of his (four) attempts, but the Buffalo offense posted only 17 total yards while also getting into the end zone.
(This can all be explained by a huge DPI call drawn by Stefon Diggs, of course. I didn't love it, because it was a badly underthrown deep ball into traffic, but it's hard to argue against the contact. I just found the side-by-side quarterback comparison they put up on the screen amusing.)
To make things even more amusing, while I typed all that, the Bills notched their second passing touchdown of the day ... on a 20-yard pass from Cole Beasley. That'll give him the best of the three quarterbak lines of the day!
Scott Spratt: Here is video of Cole Beasley's touchdown pass, Dave.
— Alex Brasky (@AlexBraskyBDN) November 29, 2020
Just searching for that on Twitter, I saw multiple jokes about how the Broncos wish he was their quarterback today. So I'll refrain.
Vince Verhei: Inside the red zone, Bills call a designed run to Josh Allen. Chargers snuff it out and he's corralled for a loss. In desperation, he lobs a pass to a receiver at the sideline, but it was a designed run, so that gets a penalty for linemen downfield. Worse, Allen is slow to get up and in obvious pain. Matt Barkley comes in on second down and is promptly sacked by an unblocked Joey Bosa. Allen returns for third-and-18, which turns into a third-and-23 after a false start. A screen to Devin Singletary then goes nowhere. Tyler Bass bails them out with a 45-yard field goal and a 17-6 lead, but that was not the best red zone drive I ever saw.
Chargers are doing a fine job of containing Allen -- he's at 60 net yards (including sack yardage) on 14 dropbacks, plus 15 yards on four runs. But the Bills are scoring anyway, and their own offense hasn't been sharp today.
Vince Verhei: Still 17-6 at halftime. Do want to mention the best news for the Chargers is that Austin Ekeler is back today, leading L.A. in both rushing (five carries for 25 yards) and receiving (six catches for 52 yards).
Bryan Knowles: Chargers aren't going down without a fight. Joshua Kelley, spelling the just-returned Austin Ekeler for a few plays, busts out a 33-yard run to get the Chargers back into the red zone, and then leaps over the line to move this to a 24-14 Bills lead late in the third. The response on Chargers Twitter? Annoyance that the fumble-prone Kelly stole a touchdown from Ekeler and/or Herbert. The things you care about when your season is toast, one supposes.
Vince Verhei: Chargers trail 24-14 in the fourth quarter with a fourth-and-1 at the Bills' 25. They go for it and run what looks like a read option out of the pistol, but the Bills are blitzing everyone up the A-gaps at the snap and also have a man on the perimeter to watch Herbert. That play fails 99 times out of 100; Herbert needed to audible to a pass or something. As it is, Kelley is stuffed for no gain.
No matter, though, because two plays later Devin Singletary fumbles the ball right back to them near midfield. A roughing the passer call on Ed Oliver converts a third down and gives them a first down in the red zone. A pitch to Kelley loses yards on third-and-1 -- a reminder that Kelley has been by far the worst runner in the league this year. The Chargers line up to go for it on fourth-and-4, then call timeout and kick the field goal. That's some classic Anthony Lynn game management there, but the kick is good and the Chargers are very much in this thing, down 24-17 with more than 10 minutes to go.
Scott Spratt: The Bills were cruising up 24-14, but they've lost fumbles on two of their last three plays. Suddenly, the Chargers are driving with nine minutes in the fourth quarter to try to tie this up.
Aaron Schatz: So, the Chargers' clock management at the end of the game. They have no timeouts at this point and need two scores.
- 1:14 left: Hail Mary, caught, but offensive pass interference.
- 1:00 left: Hail Mary on fourth-and-27, CAUGHT AGAIN at the Buffalo 2. at this point it takes 35 seconds for all the Chargers and Bills to make it downfield to the new line of scrimmage.
- 25 seconds left: HANDOFF ?!?!?! The Chargers didn't want an incomplete pass to maybe stop the clock???
- 8 seconds left: incomplete pass but at this point there's no time for two scores, the game is over.
- Then two incomplete passes and a QB sneak to try to score a pointless touchdown that ended up losing 2 yards.
Chargers should have spiked the ball after the Hail Mary and either tried for the end zone or gone for the field goal-onside kick-another Hail Mary combo.
Andrew Potter: The entire past decade and a half of Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers football can be summed up in one play:
QB IS SNEAKING WHEN O-LINE IS DROPPING IN PASS PRO
FIRE EVERYONE pic.twitter.com/633syvqRNr
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) November 29, 2020
New York Giants 19 at Cincinnati Bengals 17
Scott Spratt: My friend is walking the line between genius and insanity by selecting the Giants as his third NFC East team this year in our eliminator league. I have no idea how he has made it this far. But after the Giants went up 7-0 against Brandon Allen and the Bengals, I texted him that that lead may be insurmountable. Apparently not:
Brandon Wilson takes it back 103 yards for the TD and a quick six points for the Bengals D/ST.
— Rotoworld Football (@Rotoworld_FB) November 29, 2020
That's Brandon Wilson on the return, so possible big day for Brandons on the Bengals. But the funny thing is the Giants entered today with the No. 4 DVOA special teams. They were 24th and 28th in offense and defense.
Bryan Knowles: Daniel Jones is hurt, grabbing at the back of his leg. That seems like a hamstring issue; hopefully, nothing too serious. Colt McCoy is in, which reminds me that Colt McCoy is somehow still in the league.
Dave Bernreuther: I grew up a Giants fan, most of my friends are Giants fans, and I live with a genius that is a fan of both a bitter rival and all things Texas/Austin ... and I had NO idea that Colt McCoy was the Giants backup, let alone still in the league.
Bryan Knowles: Don't put this one away just yet -- Tee Higgins just caught a score to make this a 19-17 game with 2:33 left.
Fun fact about the Giants: depending on how you count Mitchell Trubisky, this is the sixth game in which the Giants have played the majority of the game against their opponent's backup quarterback -- Trubisky, Nick Mullens, Andy Dalton, K.Allen, Alex Smith, and now B.Allen. That explains a little bit how they'll be in playoff position with a win.
Miami Dolphins 20 at New York Jets 3
Vince Verhei: Today is the first time all year that the Jets have had Sam Darnold and his top three wide receivers -- Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman, and Denzel Mims -- on the field at the same time. Early results are encouraging. At the end of the first quarter, Darnold is 5-of-6 for 84 yards against a good pass defense in Miami. The game is tied 3-3, but the Jets have the ball and are driving near midfield.
But they go no farther -- Darnold throws incomplete on third-and-4 and the Jets will punt.
Bryan Knowles: "This is where all the armchair quarterbacks would throw the ball into the end zone. But you have to give your team the best chance to win; make it a one-score game."
This was the announcers in the Jets-Dolphins game. The situation: the Jets are down 13-3 with three seconds left in the half. They face a fourth-and-1 from the Miami 11. They eschew going for it, and kick the safe 29-yard field goal.
Which sails wide right. Still 13-3.
Scott Spratt: At least Sam Ficken could blame his two missed extra-point attempts last week on an injured groin, Bryan.
Vince Verhei: Remember Darnold's hot start? Yeah, never mind. In the second quarter he went 4-of-9 for only 45 yards. Dolphins lead 13-3 at halftime as Ryan Fitzpatrick is carrying the offense -- he has already thrown 22 passes (for 180 yards and a touchdown) while the Dolphins have only six runs for 16 yards. Mike Gesicki's 13-yard touchdown on a corner route on third-and-8 is the biggest play in the game so far.
Vince Verhei: Darnold's decline since the first quarter continues.
Snacktime for @FOETYY
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) November 29, 2020
Dave Bernreuther: The call on that Darnold pick almost makes up for the field goal comment before half. "… throws on the run, and a TERRIBLE PASS..."
Vince Verhei: The Jets had a chance to get back into this after a Patrick Laird fumble gave them the ball deep in Miami territory early in the fourth quarter. Darnold was sacked on second down, though, and his third-down completion came up a yard short of the sticks. Down 13-3 at the time, I might have forgiven Adam Gase for kicking a field goal there. Instead he handed off to Frank Gore, who was hit in the backfield for no gain.
After an exchange of punts, Ryan Fitzpatrick hit his second third-down touchdown pass to a tight end today -- this one to Adam Shaheen -- to put Miami up 20-3 with less than seven minutes to go and pretty much end this one. The game has never felt close, but it really has been and has come down to red zone performance. The Dolphins have turned two red zone drives into two touchdowns; the Jets have three red zone tries and have hit one field goal, missed another, and turned the ball over on downs.
Arizona Cardinals 17 at New England Patriots 20
Aaron Schatz: Patriots go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Arizona 7 and pitch to James White for a touchdown run, that makes it 10-7 Arizona. The Cardinals are doing a good job of not falling for Patriots' misdirection tactics, in particular staying home to stuff a couple of end arounds. But the touchdown drive was helped along by a somewhat iffy "lowering the head" penalty on Isaiah Simmons. Patriots were getting iffy run blocking from replacement left tackle Jermaine Eluemunor and have replaced him with rookie Justin Herron. We'll have to see if that's a replacement or just some sort of rotation.
For Arizona: Cardinals scored early when Cam Newton had a tipped pass intercepted on the first drive, and the Cardinals had an easy short field. Their second drive went 63 yards and a field goal with most of the completions coming pretty easily but the Patriots keeping Kyler Murray contained on the runs.
Cale Clinton: Kyler Murray makes every play look like street ball.
— NFL (@NFL) November 29, 2020
Aaron Schatz: We go to halftime still at 10-7 Cardinals. Huge fourth-down stop by the Patriots after a pretty easy 71-yard drive by the Cardinals. But the Cardinals had a touchdown overturned on third-and-goal when it was determined that KeeSean Johnson had his knee down before he reached into the end zone. Then on fourth-and-goal with 3 seconds left, the Cardinals went heavy and just ran Kenyan Drake into the A-gap. Lawrence Guy occupied two blockers which left Ja'Whaun Bentley stuff Drake before he got to the goal line. And since the quarter was over, the Cardinals don't even get the benefit of the Patriots getting the ball back in a negative-EPA situation backed up on their own goal line.
Patriots are hemming in the Arizona run game but the pass plays are there. DeAndre Hopkins is winning his battle with Stephon Gilmore so far. On the other side, Patriots offense just doesn't look good. How often can you run the ball on second-and-long? Cam Newton is 3-for-8 right now.
Vince Verhei: It wasn't a big play in this game, but the Patriots had a first-and-10 where they came out in an "offset I" with Cam Newton taking a shotgun snap and a fullback in a three-point stance in front of him and to his right. Newton just followed the lead blocker up the gut for a 9-yard gain. It was beautiful in its simplicity, and a big reason Newton has run for a team-high 23 yards.
That's the good news. The bad news is that he's having a horrid day as a passer -- 3-of-8 for 37 yards with an interception and two sacks.
Cale Clinton: New England's defense has shown flashes of the old "bend-don't-break" moniker stapled to their unit prior to the highs of 2018 and 2019. The Patriots allowed Arizona's lone touchdown of the first half on short field position -- their own 23-yard-line -- after a Cam Newton pick on the opening drive.
Beyond that, they've kept the Cardinals offense relatively in check. Kyler Murray did post 131 first-half yards through the air, completing 14 of 20 passes in the process, but the Patriots defense has done a good job keeping him contained in the run game. Stephon Gilmore sniffed out Kyler's lone designed run for a 2-yard loss. RBSDM has Arizona, who we rate as the sixth-best rushing offense per weighted DVOA, currently posting a -0.32 EPA/play on 15 plays in through the first half. The Cardinals' three offensive drives following the touchdown ended in a fourth-and-12 field goal, a fourth-and-11 punt, and a turnover on downs on New England's 1-yard-line, complete with an overturned touchdown on third down and a goal-line stand that stuffed Kenyan Drake for no gain.
Aaron Schatz: Rules experts, please explain to me how this block right in a punt gunner's face is a "blindside block."
Patriots get a TD called back after a player gets flagged for a blindside block on a player that's actually quite close to making the tackle pic.twitter.com/T0G7INvTAp
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) November 29, 2020
Bryan Knowles: From the rule book, It is a foul if a player initiates a block when his path is toward or parallel to his own end line and makes forcible contact to his opponent with his helmet, forearm, or shoulder.
I think Anfernee Jennings (58) stopped before making the hit, and I don't know how the NFL defines "path." It seems a questionable call for me, but it may be correct by the letter of the rule.
Cale Clinton: The Patriots have an 82-yard punt return touchdown by Gunner Olszewski taken off the board because of an illegal crackback penalty Not the best angle, but Jennings seems to be making a block on a guy with a realistic chance of preventing the score. Maybe it was the theatrics of the hit.
Aaron Schatz: OK, apparently that block *is* illegal because you aren't allowed to block towards your own end zone. It's just that the penalty is badly named as "illegal blindside" because it's not a blindside block at all.
Vince Verhei: Fair or not, it turns out to be a monster penalty, because New England stalls in the red zone and gets a game-tying field goal instead of a go-ahead touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots take a 17-10 lead when they get their own tipped-pass interception at the line of scrimmage. We've all been joking about what's going to happen with the Broncos later today but this was the Patriots scoring drive: 18-yard run with a huge hole, 6-yard run, 6-yard power run by Cam Newton, failed sneak, failed handoff from a heavy 7OL set, and finally a pitch to the outside where James White found the pylon. That last one was a three-wide set. See, try spreading things a little bit and stop the defense from going heavy, and you're more likely to score in short yardage! It works in Madden too, you know.
Cale Clinton: A costly drive for the Patriots defense, as two key pieces to their defense goes down. J.C. Jackson limped to the sideline, while Adrian Phillips went down the very next play.
Bryan Knowles: The Cardinals just ran nine consecutive plays inside the red zone, helped out by a pair of holding penalties by New England. The Patriots did a decent job defending, but if you get that many cracks from that close to the goal line, it's really only a matter of time. We're tied at 17.
Aaron Schatz: Cardinals finally getting good run blocking on that drive.
Aaron Schatz: Cam Newton just threw inside as Damiere Byrd went outside and the Cardinals have their second interception and will take over in a tie game at midfield with four minutes left.
Aaron Schatz: Cardinals get one first down with three short plays, then stall out. Zane Gonzalez honks a 45-yard field goal and we've still got a tie game.
Aaron Schatz: The decision to kick a field goal cost the Cardinals 20% Game-Winning Chance according to the EdjSports model. A 45-yard field goal is not a gimme, and as Michael Lopez from the NFL pointed out on Twitter, it's more difficult to kick in the Patriots' lighthouse/open end zone than in the closed end zone on the other side.
Patriots take the ball back and Cam Newton scrambles out of bounds right past the marker to convert third-and-13 ... and adds on 15 yards with a questionable personal foul on Simmons. It looks like he hit Newton when Newton was still in bounds, but he did have a slight helmet-to-helmet hit on Newton. Was that the reason they called the penalty? It puts the Patriots into very long field goal range. The Patriots gain 7 yards on a couple plays then take the clock down to three seconds, and Nick Folk comes in. He hits a 50-yard field goal in the easier end zone, and the Patriots come away with the 20-17 upset.
Dave Bernreuther: I was really rooting for the Cam Newton Patriots this year. Like, a lot. I have always found much of the criticism of him to be unfounded (if not downright racist) and was super excited to see how Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick would combine their cleverness and love of history to create a dominant 11-on-11 run game (after showing since 2018 that they could grind out yards even 10-on-11), plus I hated Newton's injury luck and wanted to see him come back as a passer as well. This is a weird thing for a Colts fan to say, but there was no bigger Patriots and Cam Newton fan this year than me.
That pick he threw to Dre Kirkpatrick just made me hang my head in defeat. It wasn't pressure. Wasn't foot placement, wasn't a bad route, wasn't wind, wasn't a great defensive play ... it was a nicely thrown pass to the completely wrong spot. And it put the Cardinals in position to win the game. It stands as the third end-game giveaway for Newton this season. It's too late to blame COVID, or even the lack of preseason ... it makes me finally join the crowd of people wondering: is Cam Newton just not good anymore?
Zane Gonzalez honks an easy kick! The Patriots get a gift! And now Newton (who I should also mention has thrown only 16 passes, which is funny in the context of us wondering about pass attempts for the Broncos, and also has given him fewer pass yards and attempts than Justin Herbert had in the Chargers' first two drives) has a chance to drive the Patriots down the field to win it. Aided by a personal foul at the end of a Newton run, Nick Folk hits another game-winner as time expires. And I am now two-for-two today in immediately jinxing a team as soon as I start talking about them.
Cale Clinton: Per Ryan Hannable of WEEI, New England's 179 yards of offense were the third-fewest total yards for a Belichick-led Patriots team.
Carolina Panthers 27 at Minnesota Vikings 28
Scott Spratt: Teddy Bridgewater's backup P.J. Walker threw two interceptions in the red zone last week that didn't hurt the Panthers in their shutout of the Lions. Well, Bridgewater did the same on his third drive today with linebacker Eric Kendricks cutting off running back Mike Davis' slant route.
Teddy B gets picked off by Eric Kendricks
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) November 29, 2020
The Vikings are facing some adversity today with Adam Thielen and Irv Smith both out, the former because of an apparent false-positive COVID test. But already up 7-0, the Vikings are well positioned to ride Dalvin Cook to a win in a positive game script for their preferred offensive approach.
Cale Clinton: Not the most exciting game thus far. Minnesota's first offensive drive of the afternoon was a modestly constructed 13-play, 63-yard touchdown drive to Justin Jefferson, but that's really all. Carolina punted on its first two drives, Minnesota went three-and-out on their second drive. The Panthers offense pushed the ball all the way down to Minnesota's 12-yard-line before throwing an interception with a ball into traffic. The Vikings moved the ball 18 yards, then punted.
The Panthers offense has been run-heavy, while Teddy Bridgewater currently sits at 2-for-9 for 21 yards and the interception. Meanwhile, the Vikings have failed to find any rushing success outside of a 9-yard Kirk Cousins scramble to pick up a first down. Dalvin Cook is averaging 2.9 yards on eight carries, with RBSDM's box score calculating Minnesota's rush EPA/play at -0.18.
Scott Spratt: Ifeadi Odenigbo was one of the 2020 Almanac's top prospects, but I'm guessing Rivers didn't select the defensive end for that list because of his coverage skills. I'm not sure I've ever seen a 41-yard catch-and-run touchdown as easy as Robby Anderson's one there.
Teddy Bridgewater to Robby Anderson for a 41 yard TD pic.twitter.com/blepSbUDnP
— TUFF TALK (@TUFFPOD) November 29, 2020
Scott Spratt: Broadcast analyst and former linebacker Jonathan Vilma just said that Kirk Cousins is a linebacker trapped in a quarterback's body. I think it's best to leave it to your imagination as to what context that comment came from.
Scott Spratt: I'm not sure Cousins showed his linebacker mentality on this strip-sack. He seemed to just drop the ball without a fight.
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) November 29, 2020
That Jeremy Chinn return touchdown puts the Panthers up 14-10. And for those of you who checked out on the Panthers when they fell from playoff contention, I'll just point out that he's a defensive rookie of the year candidate.
Scott Spratt: I promise I hadn't seen the subsequent play when I typed that previous note on Chinn.
Jeremy Chinn again!pic.twitter.com/lgMpYq8zNO
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) November 29, 2020
Of course, more important than that second defensive score is Dalvin Cook's status. He's down on the field after being caught in that scrum.
Scott Spratt: For the record, that was two defensive touchdowns for Jeremy Chinn in 10 seconds of game time.
Scott Spratt: Two big developments for the Vikings. First, they blocked a Panthers' field goal attempt to remain within 11 points down 21-10. And second, Dalvin Cook is back on the field.
Scott Spratt: Ugh, I just realized that the 4-7 Panthers would be one win behind the Cardinals for the final NFC wild-card spot if they won and the Cardinals lost today. The Panthers are currently up 21-13 over the Vikings, and the Cardinals are currently down 17-10 against the Patriots. Is head-to-head record the first wild-card tiebreaker, guys? The Panthers beat the Cardinals back in Week 4.
To think I nearly had a stress-free NFL fan season.
Bryan Knowles: Head-to-head is the tiebreaker in a two-way tie. If more than one team is tied, then it has to be a head-to-head sweep, otherwise it moves on, and the Panthers' conference record isn't great.
With so many teams ahead of Carolina, I may advise waiting a week or two before studying those tiebreakers too closely. ;)
Scott Spratt: Well, with both the playoffs and a top college quarterback out of reach, Bryan, I guess I'll just sit here?
Bryan Knowles: I'm not saying give up! I've still got half an eye on a "49ers run the table and steal a wild-card slot" potential myself! It's just that the Panthers' playoff hopes are based a lot more on just winning out than the specifics of tiebreakers.
Scott Spratt: Speaking of rookie of the year candidates, watch Justin Jefferson break Stanley Thomas-Oliver's ankles while scoring his second touchdown of the day.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) November 29, 2020
The Vikings went for and converted a fourth-and-1 on that drive and went for and converted a two-point conversion after Jefferson's touchdown. Now they are down just 24-21 with four minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Scott Spratt: Mike Davis versus 258-pound defensive end D.J. Wonnum.
— TimeoutSPORTS__ (@TimeoutSPORTS3) November 29, 2020
Vince Verhei: Scott, how has Jefferson looked? He has been the league-leader in DYAR all year, but that may be because defenses have been focused on Adam Thielen, who has 17 more targets this season. Today, with Thielen inactive, Jefferson has only six catches for 55 yards in 11 targets (granted, with two touchdowns). Has Jefferson looked like a top-flight wideout this afternoon, or a product of Minnesota's circumstances?
Scott Spratt: I've been very impressed by Jefferson, Vince, both this afternoon and in general this season. He just has an impressive array of ways to get open. He combines slot receiver short-area quickness with outside receiver size and athleticism
Of course, if the Vikings lose this game, they can definitely blame their fumbling. In addition to the two Chinn return touchdowns earlier, they just muffed a punt to put the Panthers in the red zone with two minutes to go already up 24-21.
— Nathan Fry (@FrySports) November 29, 2020
Scott Spratt: The Panthers are kicking a field goal to go up 27-21 with 1:54 left on a fourth-and-goal from the Vikings' 3-yard line. Thoughts guys?
Dave Bernreuther: The Panthers have the ball at the 3, up three, with under two minutes left and the Vikings out of timeouts. Why on EARTH would you kick that field goal and then give them a four-down drive starting at the 25? What a terrible decision to kick that. I'd rather go for it and fail and leave them there than have those three points!
Scott Spratt: Maybe Matt Rhule's plan was to kick that field goal so the Panthers could later kick a game-winning field goal after the Vikings scored really fast? Because Cousins just did that. It's 28-27 Vikings with 46 seconds left.
Bryan Knowles: Never, ever kick the field goal to go up six. Sorry, Scott.
Minnesota gets the ball and marches right down the field, covering 80 yards in just 1:05. They're sitting on a one-point lead with 46 seconds left.
Aaron Schatz: Never, ever kick the field goal that goes up by six. Panthers should have gone for fourth-and-goal on the 3.
Scott Spratt: Update: Teddy Bridgewater just connected with Curtis Samuel for 35 yards. The ball is at midfield with 25 seconds left. The clock stopped for a Vikings injury.
Is it better for the Panthers to win or lose? That has been the question this entire Panthers season.
Scott Spratt: Also, Joey Slye better warm up for another 60-plus-yard game-winning field goal try.
Bryan Knowles: And now, Bridgewater is hurt! This has been one of the strangest finishes I've ever seen.
Scott Spratt: Slye's 54-yard effort for the win...
I'm looking for a video, but every video on Twitter is of a shanked golf shot or something metaphoric. It was way left.
Scott Spratt: Found the Slye kick!
— (@B_R_R_D) November 29, 2020
On second watch, it was still bad.
Cale Clinton: Adam Thielen, inactive this afternoon while on the COVID list, got to watch the chaos unfold from the comfort of his home:
— Will Ragatz (@WillRagatz) November 29, 2020
Cleveland Browns 27 at Jacksonville Jaguars 25
Bryan Knowles: The Browns are having trouble with the one-win Jaguars. Mike Glennon, starting his first game since 2017, hasn't been a disaster, and James Robinson is effective on the ground. Baker Mayfield, on the other hand, missed one of the easiest touchdown passes you'll ever see -- NextGen Stats had it as an 86% chance to be completed.
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) November 29, 2020
There's no weather or anything to blame for that today; that's all Mayfield. Now, the Browns are winning, going up 17-13 after Mayfield hit Austin Hooper for a score, but you'd hope a seven-win team would be looking sharper against a one-win team, wouldn't you?
Bryan Knowles: Upset alert! The Jaguars got bailed out by a questionable roughing the passer call on fourth down, giving the Jags a new chance at life. They use it and score a James Robinson touchdown, but the two-point conversion fails, and the Browns will get the ball back still up 27-25. The Jags have all three timeouts and the two-minute warning, however...
Bryan Knowles: The Jaguars force a third-and-12, and the Browns do a give-up handoff to Nick Chubb to make the Jags waste their last timeout ... and Chubb just bursts through everyone to pick up the first down anyway. Browns somehow escape with a win.
Las Vegas Raiders 6 at Atlanta Falcons 43
Scott Spratt: It doesn't sound like this game struck anyone as one of the likely good watches of the early slate, but the Falcons are poised to play spoiler up 16-3 at halftime even without Julio Jones. Can a potential playoff team have a worse run of one drive on defense and two quarters than the Raiders have just had, first losing that Chiefs rematch on a classic Patrick Mahomes game-winning drive and now potentially losing to a 3-7 Falcons team that will forfeit the Raiders' current standing as an AFC wild-card team?
Vince Verhei: It's also Thanksgiving weekend -- just about time for Atlanta's annual "too little, too late" rally in the second half of the season.
Scott Spratt: Honestly, Vince, I think that run already started. The Falcons are 3-2 since they started 0-5 and fired Dan Quinn.
Bryan Knowles: I know it's an early start across the country, but the Raiders look terrible. Derek Carr just tried a jump-pass under pressure; that worked just about as well as you might expect. Deion Jones snags it out of the air and races 67 yards for an easy touchdown to give the Falcons a 23-3 lead. It's not quite game-over or anything, but if the Raiders can't figure out a way to get on the same page, this would be a huge blow to their playoff chances.
Cale Clinton: The Raiders' third turnover of the afternoon may be their ugliest yet
— NFL (@NFL) November 29, 2020
Scott Spratt: That pick-six was eerily similar to the one Jones returned on Jameis Winston to win in overtime in Week 17 last year, Bryan. Jones even celebrated with the same ball flourish en route to the end zone.
What if I told you, moments after becoming only the 8th QB with 5K passing yards in a #NFL season. He ended his season by throwing his 30th interception: @ESPN's 30 for 30 presents: Jameis Winston- the giver who takes away
— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) December 29, 2019
New Orleans Saints 31 at Denver Broncos 3
Aaron Schatz: I hope we have someone watching the Broncos! It's gonna be wild.
Andrew Potter: They're playing my Saints, so I'll be on that unless it gets out of hand early.
Cale Clinton: And I'll be there for when it gets out of hand.
Tom Gower: I'm envisioning something like the Bears' Caleb Hanie game where they punted every possession. With the short amount of time to prepare Hinton, I doubt they do anything particularly interesting. That's particularly the case since they're not a strong contender for the playoffs and are facing the Saints, a better team and an unfamiliar foe.
Carl Yedor: This game should put an end to most hypothetical discussions from washed high school athletes about their ability to consistently complete passes in an NFL game. Kendall Hinton was a backup quarterback at Wake Forest but moved to wide receiver later in his career. The scenario with the Broncos being unable to sign a free-agent quarterback in time feels a lot like a high school situation where you can't magically find quarterbacks to plop into your offense and have to put the kid in who can physically throw the best, regardless of whether he's any good. To be clear, Hinton is an NFL-level athlete (even though he's not a quarterback), and Denver will likely be running a conservative offense. But I'm actually pretty excited for this game. It could get ugly quickly, but it's something we almost never see.
Bryan Knowles: Let's set up some expectations and targets for Broncos-Saints. With all four Broncos quarterbacks out due to COVID concerns and Taysom Hill starting for New Orleans, the NFL records for pass attempts in a game are in jeopardy today.
The all-time NFL record for fewest attempts in a game for both teams combined is four. That record is safe. The record since the merger, however, is another story. That's 16, set by Archie Manning and Jim Plunkett in a Saints-49ers game in 1977. I really think that has got an outside shot at falling.
The record for fewest passes in a game in the 21st century? That sits at 27, shared by Cody Pickett vs. Kyle Orton the 2005 49ers-Bears game, played in a massive windstorm, and Chris Weinke vs. Michael Vick in the 2006 Panthers-Falcons game. I would be very surprised if that record does not fall.
Scott Spratt: Those records weren't on my mind, Bryan, but I projected Hinton for 11.5 pass attempts in the Football Outsiders weekly projections. It could be like a snow game without snow!
Cale Clinton: We've got Kendall Hinton warm-up throws!
— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) November 29, 2020
Vince Verhei: Your reminder that Kendall Hinton has thrown a touchdown pass more recently than Taysom Hill.
For what it's worth, I ran a Twitter poll about the pass attempts in this game. By about two-to-one, the results were that yes, there would be at least 20 pass attempts between the two teams.
Carl Yedor: The Broncos got one first down on their opening drive, but their only pass attempt fell incomplete on a third down. So far, their run plays have been direct snaps to the running back, which is likely out of necessity but also seems like a pretty clear tell regarding who is going to be carrying the ball. Obviously, they had next to no time to prepare for this, so it's out of necessity. Regardless, this should be a fun watch for football nerds, even if points may be at a premium.
Scott Spratt: I'm just getting this one on a screen, but it looks like the Broncos are mostly just direct-snapping the ball to their running backs. Honestly, I wouldn't hate the strategy for them against the Saints even if Drew Lock were available.
Vince Verhei: As Scott noted, Denver's offense today is almost entirely direct snaps to running backs, with Hinton coming on for bomb-or-scramble plays on third downs. The results: one first down in three possessions, all punts. Hinton is 0-for-2 with a near-interception (Marshon Lattimore caught the pass but couldn't stay in bounds).
Mind you, things are hardly any better for New Orleans. In five dropbacks, Hill has gained 5 yards on two completions and lost 13 yards on two sacks. Their best play in the first 14 minutes or so came when they lined up on fourth-and-1 and actually got the Broncos to jump offsides for a first down. But Alvin Kamara runs for 15 yards on the last play of the territory for a first down, the first time either team has crossed midfield today.
Vince Verhei: As our old colleague Michael David Smith points out, this means the Broncos actually have more passing yards after one quarter than the Saints do.
Vince Verhei: Following that Kamara run, the Saints open the second quarter with eight straight runs, the last of them Hill scoring a touchdown on a walk-in sweep on third-and-goal from the 1. He also had a conversion on third-and-4 on a dive play out of shotgun. Saints are now up to 81 yards on 16 rushes, -8 yards on five pass plays.
Dave Bernreuther: And now that they're up a touchdown, the Saints would do well to not attempt another pass all game.
I've spent plenty of time in plenty of venues pointing to the in-division QB/opponent luck that Tom Brady has gotten for his career. Until a week ago I thought that was due to continue, as Drew Brees got hurt while the Bucs were within a game ... but it's fair to say that this game is a huge dose of terrible luck for Brady. Because there's nothing too great about this Hill-led offense, and the Broncos are good enough that if they got a decent game out of Lock this could've been an upset. Now? Not so much.
Right now what I'm most curious about is if this game's first half will end before Tampa Bay's first quarter.
Carl Yedor: New Orleans gets on the board courtesy of a quarterback sweep from Taysom Hill. This game is every super old school football coach's dream. There have been five pass attempts so far compared to 25 total carries. Would I want this every week? Absolutely not. Neither team's offense is playing well, but it's still entertaining to a neutral observer that doesn't need a gazillion points on the board in every game.
Dave Bernreuther: Hinton's third pass is also into the hands of a defender, and is again dropped, this time by Janoris Jenkins.
His fourth pass is straight into the turf, nowhere near his receiver.
This is already past the point of novelty amusement. It hurts to watch. Four drives, four punts, little prayer of success.
Andrew Potter: We're midway through the second quarter in Denver, and for me, the novelty value has well and truly worn off. This is unspeakably awful football. I'm reneging on my previous commitment and switching to RedZone.
Vince Verhei: ARRRGGGHH, this game. Saints go three-and-out on a short run, an incomplete pass on a screen (with an illegal man downfield, declined), and another screen, which LOSES 2 yards on third-and-long.
Neither of these teams are fielding NFL-caliber offenses today. The Broncos' hand has been forced by circumstance. The Saints are handicapping themselves by choice.
Scott Spratt: The Broncos don't have a completion with 3:54 left in the first half. Fittingly, the broadcast just flashed that the last team who went without a completion in a first half was also the Broncos, on November 13, 2011. That has to be Tim Tebow, right?
Dave Bernreuther: Handy Fox graphic tells us that the last team with no completions in a first half was ... the Tim Tebow era Broncos in 2011. (Surely this will spark a completion.)
(Or a fumble. Great tackle by Garett Bolles to atone for his earlier holding call and prevent the touchdown!)
Bryan Knowles: Yeah, that's a Tebow 2-for-8 day. Vintage Tim Tebow.
Scott Spratt: FYI, I just looked it up and the Broncos won that game 17-10 over the Chiefs. Bad teams should intentionally do this all the time.
Vince Verhei: Denver's 10th direct snap of the day to a running back never actually gets there as Lloyd Cushenberry botches the snap and Kwon Alexander recovers for the Saints in the red zone. The Saints then inexplicably go pass-wacky as Hill throws the ball on four straight snaps. That results in two incompletions and two short catches, though Adam Trautman does convert a third down on -- what else? -- a screen pass. That sets up Hill's own touchdown run, his second of the day, and a 14-0 lead that may as well be 140-0.
With seconds to go, the Broncos let Hinton try a deep ball, but it's 5 yards short of DaeSean Hamilton and the Saints finally get an interception, this one by Jenkins. Hill finally -- finally! -- completes a pass downfield, hitting Michael Thomas for a 22-yard gain in the middle of Denver's zone. That lets Wil Lutz hit a 40-yard field goal at the gun for a 17-0 lead at halftime. Saints are also getting the ball to start the second half.
Hill is now up to 6-of-11 for 38 yards with two sacks. Hinton is 0-for-7 with an interception. NFL football!
Carl Yedor: Never say never obviously, but this one looks done at halftime barring a miracle. At this point, Denver has to consider it a success if they can complete a pass. Goes to show just how hard it is to play quarterback in the NFL.
Bryan Knowles: We're at 18 passes at the half. That means the post-merger record for pass attempts is safe; football in the 1970s was a different beast entirely. Nine passes in the second half to beat the Pickett-Orton 21st century record seems likely, too, considering the Broncos' play calling to this point. So we turn elsewhere for history.
No team has been held without a pass completion since 1960, when Ralph Guglielmi and MC Reynolds combined to go 0-for-7 for Washington. One-fer days have certainly happened, most recently by Cody Pickett in that 2005 game we've talked about before, but we haven't had a zero-day since the merger. You would think that is a matter of choice -- a simple jet sweep or something would give the Broncos that much-needed completion.
Bryan Knowles: They did it! They did it! Hinton with the throwback to Noah Fant, and the Broncos have a completion!
Vince Verhei: Hinton's next pass after his first completion results in his second interception. No problem, because Hill follows by going incomplete, sack, interception on third-and-12. Broncos then kick a field goal without picking up a first down to make it 17-3.
Vince Verhei: This may be the last offensive highlight we see today, so let's all appreciate Latavius Murray's vision, cutback ability, and burst on this long touchdown run.
Latavius Murray oh my goodness
— PFF (@PFF) November 29, 2020
Vince Verhei: Another Murray touchdown run makes it 31-3 Saints. With the game won, Hill is pulled from the game so Jameis Winston can spend the rest of the afternoon handing off.
Hill finishes the game with 78 passing yards, an interception, and three sacks (and, of course, two rushing touchdowns).
Vince Verhei: Broncos finish the game with the one completion for 13 yards, and 1 yard lost on a sack. That's 12 net passing yards, the fewest since 2016, when Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick combined for 39 yards on five completions ... and 33 yards lost on six sacks.
San Francisco 49ers 23 at Los Angeles Rams 20
Bryan Knowles: Deebo Samuel is playing his first game in three weeks; Raheem Mostert is back from longer than that. The 49ers just had a drive which went 33-yard end-around to Samuel, 3-yard Mostert run, 26-yard pass to Samuel, 8-yard Mostert touchdown.
It turns out, and this is a shock, having offensive players healthy helps an offense. 49ers out to a 7-3 lead late in the first quarter.
Vince Verhei: The Rams just ran a draw to Malcolm Brown on third-and-20, down 7-3 in the second quarter.
Jared Goff is being paid more than $22 million this year.
Vince Verhei: Third-and-2, Goff throws behind Robert Woods on a curl. Coverage was tight and Goff had to throw away from the defender, but Woods had zero chance to catch that ball.
And Sean McVay is calling runs when he should pass and passes when he should run.
Vince Verhei: Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area sums up this first half better than I could:
"Through one half … Jared Goff: 11-of-16 for 107 yards with no TDs, 1 INT, and a passer rating of 61.2. Nick Mullens: 11-of-16 for 110 yards with no TDs, 1 INT, and a passer rating of 62.0."
I will add that Goff has also lost a fumble. And that Mullens is making $750,000 this year -- about 3% or 4% of Goff's paycheck.
Bryan Knowles: I'd also sum it up as "Robert Saleh auditioning for the Detroit coaching job" -- he's from Michigan, after all.
And, as I type that, Goff hits Javon Kinlaw right in the numbers, and Kinlaw runs the interception right back for the score. To be fair, Goff was hit while he was throwing, but still -- yikes. 49ers up 14-3 early as the third quarter begins.
Vince Verhei: This was Goff's first pass of the second half. Yes, he's getting hit -- which he knew, and instead of taking the sack, he forced a duck into triple coverage. This is his fifth NFL season.
Javon Kinlaw. Defensive Tackle. Pick-6.pic.twitter.com/sJUYivohtw
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) November 29, 2020
Bryan Knowles: This is the last competitive game of the day, and it just became a lot MORE competitive. Aaron Donald can't defend the run, right? Well, he just blew up Colton McKivitz, the fifth-round rookie forced to start today. Donald has been destroying McKivitz all day, and this time, it lets him force a Raheem Mostert fumble. Troy Hill scoops it up and scores, and we have a 17-13 49ers lead late in the third quarter...
Vince Verhei: Aaron Donald, average run defender.
Aaron Donald forces the fumble and Troy Hill returns it for SIX. #RamsHouse
— NFL (@NFL) November 29, 2020
Bryan Knowles: Aaron Donald followed up that fumble by blowing up the 49ers on multiple times on their next drive, but San Francisco was at least able to hang on to the football to punt and flip the field position. Didn't end up mattering, however -- Cam Akers had a 68-yard run to set up a touchdown a few plays later. The Rams were down 17-3 at one point; now they have a 20-17 lead as the fourth quarter begins.
Scott Spratt: I know you're playing it for laughs, but I think the case that ESPN article made for Donald being an average run defender was that he over-pursued for assumed pass plays and so allowed big holes for big running plays more than a typical player at his position. It wasn't that he failed to make impact plays against the run or even did so less than other defenders.
I don't watch enough Rams to argue it one way or another, but I feel compelled to defend the possibility the research is right because the plays that would support it would never stick in one's mind the way the ones that refute it do. I feel like those jokes follow the same line of thinking that anti-analytics people have when they see a fourth-and-short attempt fail to convert.
Maybe I'm just sensitive as a researcher, but my vote is we make fun of the many, many things that happen each NFL week that ignore analytical wisdom rather than make fun of research that, however flawed, is trying to advance our understanding of the game in a profound way.
Bryan Knowles: The issue with the model that has Donald as an average run defender isn't the model, which I think is quite good overall. It's the repeated insistence that the model must be 100% correct, and therefore Donald is, undeniably and undoubtedly, an average run defender, that causes the ridicule. If we were to say that the Saints, coming into today, were exactly 39% better than an average football team, that DVOA represented an absolute truth rather than a best estimate of a complex system, we'd be rightly ridiculed. No one has made the claim that Donald is an elite run defender or anything, but when your model spits out results that are contrary to scouting ... well, the model might be justified in placing him ~relatively~ low. But continuing to harp on the outlier and saying no, everyone else is wrong, reduces trust in the model as a whole.
Vince Verhei: I watched every snap Donald played in 2019, and the notion that he is anything other than a clear asset against the run is ridiculous on its face.
As fans, supporters, and (hopefully) producers of good research and good analytics, we should also critique, criticize, and mock bad analytics, because they give our industry a bad name. When Brian Burke tried to back up his analytical critique of Donald with film evidence of what he claimed were bad Donald plays, he instead showed that the Rams used a lot of stunts, which sometimes took Donald "out of position" by design, and that Donald's teammates often failed to capitalize on the opportunities he presented to them.
I believe Burke's model is built to measure two-gap linemen, and it's probably good at that. But it won't give a good measure of one-gappers, and trying to do that is just garbage-in, garbage-out.
Scott Spratt: Well said, Bryan, but that's also why it's so important for us analytical-leaning football writers to provide that good context for readers. I assume that the ESPN research team got set up for ridicule by headline writers who knew that highlighting Aaron Donald that way would draw eyeballs. But why are we confident that Donald is the player the model is missing on? Maybe you have a real feel for it in a way that I don't. It sounds like Vince does. But for me, the occasional Donald highlight play isn't going to convince me either way.
Bryan Knowles: I won't blame the headline writers when it was Burke himself, the model creator, who kept coming back to Donald over and over again on Twitter throughout the offseason.
The top players it spit out pretty much align with the educated fan's understanding of who is and is not solid against the run. Donald is the one very extreme outlier. To highlight that, and not as a "Donald is an outlier because stunts take him out of position" or "the model doesn't think X is valuable" or even "he sometimes runs himself out of the play" is valuing the model over on-field results. Every model is gonna come up with somethin' weird, and that's fine -- and can be interesting and helpful in and of itself, either showing the sorts of plays a player doesn't make, or the limitations and assumptions present in the model, or both. But a little bit of humility in these sorts of things would seem to me to be an asset.
Vince Verhei: While we're arguing about Donald, the 49ers have a fourth-and-1 at the 39-yard line, 35 seconds to go, game tied at 20-all ... and they go for it! Kyle Juszczyk appears to pick up the yard to go on a fullback give, but the play is being reviewed.
Massive credit to Kyle Shanahan for not settling for a 56-yard field goal try that, good or missed, would have left enough time for the Rams to answer with a field goal of their own.
Bryan Knowles: He's still playing for a 50-yard field goal, considering Nick Mullen's limitations, but going for it on fourth there was huge. Really removes the chance of losing in regulation.
Bryan Knowles: That 50-yard field goal actually turns out to be a 47-yarder, and then an offside on the Rams turns that into a 42-yarder, and Robbie Gould isn't going to miss that. 49ers win 23-20.
Happiest team in the country right now? Probably the Seahawks, who just saw both the Rams and Cardinals lose as decently heavy favorites.
Vince Verhei: EDJ Overlords really liked the decision to go for it, which added 10% to San Francisco's Game-Winning Chance -- and they liked the conversion, which added another 10%, even more.
Four seconds left, the 49ers are about to try from 47 -- but Jalen Ramsey is offsides, moving them 5 yards closer. Robbie Gould hits from 42 and the 49ers win.
The Rams loss leaves Seattle alone in first place in the division, pending their game against the Eagles tomorrow night.
Carl Yedor: Deebo Samuel has been carrying the 49ers' offense today. In his first game back from injury, Samuel has over half of San Francisco's total receiving yards, and Shanahan has been doing what he can to specifically call plays that get the ball in his hands. The 49ers may not end up making a playoff run this season, but between Samuel, Kittle, and rookie Brandon Aiyuk, they look to have their young receiving corps of the future already. Mix in Shanahan's success with his run scheme and the 49ers have most of the pieces to surround a quarterback that you would need moving forward. Whether that quarterback moving forward is Jimmy Garoppolo, Mullens, or someone not currently on the roster remains to be seen, but the skill position talent is definitely there.
Samuel played a major role in San Francisco's two-minute drive for the game-winning field goal.
Tom Gower: I'm totally open to the idea that there are defensive linemen who are completely dependent on successful penetration to be quality run defenders and they are significantly worse than their splash plays make them look. While I haven't watched him specifically in particular depth, from what I have seen, I'm not convinced that Aaron Donald is one of those players.
Kansas City Chiefs 27 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24
Dave Bernreuther: CBS Miami switched over to the end of the Colts game, which they then stuck with even past the start of the national broadcast. I'm not sure I've ever seen that before, but it cost us the trick play and every play of the opening drive until the third-down throwaway. That sucked.
The field goal attempt from 1 foot away sucked more. Why? Why are these coaches kicking these dumb field goals?
Bryan Knowles: The announcers have spent a ton of the first half talking about Tom Brady's inability to complete a deep pass this season. Patrick Mahomes may have been listening, launching the ball 50 yards through the air to Tyreek Hill, who races the last 25 yards to the end zone. That was way too easy. 10-0 lead for Kansas City.
Scott Spratt: The most shocking part of that 75-yarder, Bryan, is that it was 20 yards longer than Mahomes had completed a pass all season.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) November 29, 2020
Aaron Schatz: Carlton Davis is having a great season so far but he can't cover Hill one-on-one deep. Hill's on four catches for 133 yards in the first eight minutes.
Dave Bernreuther: Bryan I have that one at SIXTY -- and from one hash to the other too. Looked like he threw it from his own 18 and it was caught around the 23.
Underthrown, technically. But uh, that's allowed at that distance.
Bryan Knowles: Carlton Davis, burn this tape. Tyreek Hill has seven catches, 203 yards and two touchdowns ... in the FIRST QUARTER. And a backflip, which I'll link as soon as people's jaws stop dropping and they can post videos on the Internet.
— NFL (@NFL) November 29, 2020
Bryan Knowles: The single-game receiving record is just 336 yards.
Aaron Schatz: Communication between Tom Brady and his receivers seems absent. One third-down pass went through Cameron Brate's hands. Another was way over Mike Evans' head. A third bounced off Chris Godwin's hands. There may have been a little defensive contract on that last one, but still, the Bucs can't move the ball. Three straight three-and-outs.
Dave Bernreuther: Down 17-0, fourth-and-2, just shy of midfield, and Bruce Arians ... punts? I love you, Bruce, but that's not playing to win. No risk it, no biscuit!
Bryan Knowles: Finally, the game has been joined. After struggling all day, Brady finally finds Rob Gronkowksi for a big play down the middle, and then a Buccaneers running back makes a catch (!) with Ronald Jones tip-toeing down the sideline for a touchdown. Hey, some interest in one of the late games!
Still 17-7 Chiefs late in the second quarter.
Scott Spratt: I don't think this moves the needle of the result, but Ronald Jones just broke out a sweet high step to stay in bounds for a Bucs touchdown.
— NFL (@NFL) November 29, 2020
But they're still down 17-7.
Aaron Schatz: The Bucs just made it down into the red zone on their first drive of the second half, but Brady sailed it way high to Gronk on third-and-goal after not seeing that Gronk was open on second-and-goal. Brady has been sailing the ball high an awful lot today.
Bryan Knowles: Tyreek Hill was held quiet there for a while, but he's back now -- up to 261 yards and a trio of touchdowns, putting him into the top 20 for single-game performances. We still have 22 minutes of game time left.
Chiefs up 27-10, and the only drama left might be if Hill can catch Flipper.
Aaron Schatz: Hey, Tom Brady finally hit a throw over 20 yards downfield. Beautiful 44-yard ball to Chris Godwin. The next play, Tyrann Mathieu is in his face on a blitz, Brady launches it deep again, this time to Scotty Miller, and it's a Bashaud Breeland interception instead.
Aaron Schatz: Brady hits Mike Evans on a fourth-and-3 down the right sideline to make it 27-17. Chiefs went three-and-out on their last drive after a Brady interception caused by a bounce off Daniel Sorenson's helmet at the line.
It just feels like Kansas City should be winning this game by more. It feels like they should be winning every game by more. I've seen it suggested that they're just toying with teams, that Andy Reid is holding back some of the best offensive plays for the playoffs or something. All I know is that their wins just aren't as convincing or dominant as they should be given the way people talk about this offense -- or the way it plays when it is at its best.
Aaron Schatz: (Part of the reason it feels that the Chiefs offense is better than the results on the field show: a couple of drives ago Mecole Hardman was wide open down the seam, could have had a long touchdown, and dropped it.)
Aaron Schatz: The Bucs finally got an interception off Mahomes -- more of an arm punt, it was a very deep throw, but they got it. Unfortunately, Jason Pierre-Paul came in on Mahomes with his hand up and hit him in the face for a roughing the passer flag. Tough break for the Bucs but you can't do that.
Aaron Schatz: Roughing the passer giveth and roughing the passer taketh away. Chiefs just got dinged twice on a Bucs drive, both times Frank Clark, for getting hands up in Tom Brady's pass. Brady hit a bunch of underneath stuff to Leonard Fournette and Chris Godwin, then went to Mike Evans in the left side of the end zone for the touchdown to make this 27-24 Kansas City.
Aaron Schatz: Among the problems with man coverage against Mahomes, besides Tyreek Hill roasting you alive repeatedly, is the fact that it leaves him open to scramble with tons of space. Which just happened on second-and-6 with 3:15 left. Mahomes slid down in bounds to keep the clock running, and this game is probably over. But once again Kansas City let their opponent back into the game in the second half. This team just feels like it should be winning more convincingly.
Scott Spratt: I assumed that Tony Romo was just talking because he's supposed to talk when he said he expected these teams to rematch in the Super Bowl after the Bucs just lost to fall to 7-5. But then I checked out the Super Bowl odds from prior to Week 12.
And wondered if, since the Bucs were already effectively eliminated from winning the NFC South behind the two-loss Saints, do the Bucs weirdly benefit by there only being one NFC playoff team with a bye? That's obviously bad news for a team like the Packers if they can't run down the one seed. But the Bucs couldn't have won a bye in the old system either since they won't win their division. Doesn't that mean the new system helps the Bucs by making it harder on teams that aren't (presumably) the Saints?
What do you all think?
Bryan Knowles: I think the Bucs most benefit from the NFC East being so terrible. If the Saints get, say, the second seed and have to host the Cardinals, that seems like a much tougher matchup than the Buccaneers traveling to New York.
The lack of the bye does help, I think, but it's impact is dwarfed by the poor performance of the NFC East.
Scott Spratt: That makes sense, Bryan. But does it rely on the Bucs specifically landing on the fifth seed, then? Because at least for now, the Rams sit there with just four losses, and the Rams beat the Bucs head to head.
Aaron Schatz: Also, DVOA just loves the Bucs this year. They were second coming into this week. Two of the four losses coming into this week were very close, and three of the four losses coming into this week had positive DVOA for both teams. So that high DVOA means that they win more games than you would expect in the simulation.
Bryan Knowles: It does Scott; I forgot the Rams still had the fifth seed. I choose to blame in on Aaron Donald's poor run defense. ;)
Scott Spratt: Not so fast Bryan! Are we sure the Rams aren't intentionally losing the NFC West to the Seahawks then so they can play the NFC East champ on the road rather than the Cardinals at home? Actually, what if Donald's poor run defense was just a seed-hunting effort? Donald is the football player equivalent of the South Park little league team that got really good at hitting line drives into outs so they wouldn't have to play baseball all summer.
Tom Gower: I second Aaron's comments about the puzzling nature of Kansas City. They look so good at times, like when they built their lead today, and then they go into lulls. Sure, the dropped 70-yard touchdown matters a lot, and like I said after the Raiders game, they have another gear no other offense has and I still think they're the Super Bowl favorites. But if they have too much of a lull at the wrong point against the wrong team, they're out in the playoffs.
Chicago Bears 25 at Green Bay Packers 41
Scott Spratt: Maybe the Packers' No. 20 DVOA run defense deserves a mulligan for that 226-yard Dalvin Cook game. But they did just allow David Montgomery to take a carry for 57 yards.
DAVID MONTGOMERY!!!!!!!!!!!! Look at that hole! DAMN. pic.twitter.com/CqvKCQJUYP
— WhiskeyRanger (@WhiskeyRanger29) November 30, 2020
Coming into today, Montgomery had just two carries (for 38 and 23 yards) for more than 12 yards on 131 carries all season. You don't often get holes that big behind an offensive line allowing less than 4.0 adjusted line yards.
Scott Spratt: Packers center Corey Linsley just got rolled up on and hobbled to the sidelines. That could be a really big deal. According to Sports Info Solutions, he has blown just three blocks on 572 snaps this season. His 0.5% blown block rate is third-best among centers with 300 or more snaps.
Aaron Schatz: Packers go down the field easily on their first two drives and it's 14-3 Green Bay. The Bears have rushed three a couple of times -- do they think Aaron Rodgers isn't going to find a man open when he has all day to throw?
Scott Spratt: If you start watching this clip at seven seconds, it looks like a tremendous deep connection from Rodgers to Darnell Savage.
— Matt Reynoldson (@Matt_Reynoldson) November 30, 2020
But it turns out that was a Mitchell Trubisky pass, and Savage is a defensive back, not one of his receivers. Still, Savage must have been a wideout at some point in his life, right?
Bryan Knowles: I'm not entirely sure the Bears could score 27 points against the Packers if you gave them two games to do so. I'm somewhat doubtful they'll come back in the second half.
Carl Yedor: Chicago gets into the end zone just before the half to cut the Packers' lead to 27-10. The Bears get the ball to start the second half, so maybe they have a chance to come back if they can score again on the other side of the break. The most interesting thing about this game so far is probably that neither team has punted. Green Bay has three touchdown drives while the Bears have two scoring drives, one interception, and one drive that ended in a score for Green Bay courtesy of their fumble return.
Scott Spratt: Seriously, Darnell Savage should be a wide receiver.
Darnell Savage's second INT of the night #GoPackGo
— NFL (@NFL) November 30, 2020